When I read or watch material produced by progressives, socialists and communists, it is striking how everybody seems to be on the same page. The Marxist view of history informs the overall strategy of all of these groups. When Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders chides his opponents for being on the wrong side of history, he is implicitly promoting the Marxist idea that history has a more or less inevitable direction. For the left, Capitalism is just a way station between feudalism and progressivism. Socialists and communists see their ideal societies to a few steps on road past progressivism.
But this view of history is a bluff. The direction of history is not inevitable. History is not a triumphant march from tyranny to liberty. A more accurate view would be that civilization has risen and fallen many times, with tyranny and liberty waxing and waning depending on many factors.
What progressives really have in mind is a well thought out agenda. At each step, the left consolidates their gains. This process is called by many names: the Revolutionary Process; the Socialist Program; or simply “Progress."
Contrast this with William F. Buckley’s vision of standing athwart history yelling, Stop! The Liberty Movement can look back fondly — with good reason — to the time of our founding. What we have to realize, though, is that that time is past. Even if our ultimate goal is to restore Constitutional government, direct attacks on the Revolutionary Process are not a serious plan.
Take the Net Neutrality debate. The left framed the issue in terms of fairness. They raised phantom issues of corporate censorship by the major Internet providers. This framing deftly galvanized powerful corporate interests — Facebook, Netflix and Google — against corporations that they should have common interests with. The goal was turning the Internet into a heavily regulated utility, like it already is in Sweden.
The right had no alternative framing of the issue, and no positive alternative vision was articulated. Why should we be trying to be more like Sweden — a country with a lower standard of living than the United States? Instead of copying the mistakes that led to railroad and telecom monopolies and oligopolies in the 19th and 20th centuries, the right should provide a vision of increased competition between Internet providers. Instead of envisioning catching up with South Korea, let’s blast past them.
Promoting such an agenda is easier said than done. Again, let’s look at how the progressive left field tested their game plan in the early 20th century. Progressive and socialist politicians ran at the local level, successfully winning control of municipal governments in Berkeley, Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin; Flint, Michigan and Butte, Montana. The issues they ran on seemed innocuous. The politicians had a program dubbed “sewer socialism” that focused on providing municipal services more effectively. Their methods, though, provided a blueprint for replicating these successes at the state and federal level. Similarly, the Liberty Movement needs to start strategy locally.
For this reason, I have been investigating how to bring fiber optic and other high-speed networks to municipalities. The various solutions that people have come up with are ingenious. One man in England created a network that relies on 4G signals from areas with higher landline bandwidth. WideOpen Networks has brought fiber optic networks to rural areas in Virginia, Montana and elsewhere. Alternatives really do exist to the progressive model of infrastructure as a government regulated monopoly. When we run candidates for local office, remind voters how much they hate their local cable monopoly.
Promote, instead, competition similar to that which we see between Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint. Indeed, a truly free market with less business-strangling regulation should be able to do much better than four major competitors. It is regulation that harms smaller businesses disproportionately, and ultimately leads to competition-choking mergers.
But the details of this particular issue are ultimately unimportant. The important thing is to undercut the myth of progressive inevitability. Instead of accepting that we are on the “wrong side of history,” let us send history in a different direction. Let us look forward to a vision of the future where the left cannot rely on its allies in Silicon Valley to support the long march towards the socialization of the Internet. Apply the same sort of stratagems to defense, education, entitlements, transportation, health care and other issues that voters care about. If we can show voters that the left is on the wrong side of history, then we will see rats abandon the sinking ship.
This will require a level of coordination that may not come naturally to the Liberty Movement. We all have our own issues that we prioritize. Instead of thinking tactically, we need to learn to think strategically. The Constitutional County Project is a step in the right direction. This project is focused on achieving attainable goals and then replicating that success both on the local level and on a larger scale. In the short term, this will require sacrifice of our own priorities. If even socialists and Marxists can accept delayed gratification for the sake of long term gain — an idea they eschew in the economic sphere — then we can as well.